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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Symphony brings musical delight to 900 young students

Music worked a little transformative magic Tuesday morning at the Fox Theater.

For one enchanting hour, the Spokane Symphony morphed into a swing band, complete with singers, dancers and jazz ensemble.

In the audience were almost 900 elementary school students, who were so impressed they decided to join in.

That was by design, though you wouldn’t know it. The students – third- through fifth-graders – sang, played recorders and learned a few dance moves – perhaps the same ones their great-grandparents mastered in some distant Art Deco palace.

On Tuesday that was the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, where conductor Jorge Luis Uzcategui led the seventh edition of Link Up, an annual collaboration between the symphony and local schools.

For Dan Miller, a music teacher at Woodridge Elementary School, the event “gives them the experience of hearing the orchestra, to get the feel of a live performance and to ensemble.”

Miller and his students were front and center for this year’s event, called “The Orchestra Moves!” It was the ultimate audience-participation exercise – for lungs, legs and learning.

“Playing an instrument is so valuable for children’s development,” said Janet Napoles, education manager for the Spokane Symphony. “Research shows that music lights up more areas of the brain than anything else that you can teach.”

Beyond that, Napoles said music “gives them confidence and helps them to think they can do something they didn’t think they could.”

One of Miller’s students, fourth-grader Paige Davis, entered the Fox with her recorder slung around her neck and a vague notion of her future in music.

Barely an hour later, Davis’ eyes were as big as a tuba.

“Now I’m going to try even harder and work on my notes and getting them down,” she said. “It was super fun.”

The fun began months ago. Using teaching materials provided by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, the students practiced for months ahead of the big day.

So did the symphony, which has performed other musical genres for this event but not swing.

“Until you get everyone together, you never know how it’s going to come together,” said emcee Dave Weatherred, former coordinator of visual and performing arts for District 81 and now a member of the symphony’s education committee.

“But it turned out better than I would have hoped,” he said. “This is about as interactive as it gets.”

It was also riotous fun, thanks to Weatherred and duet singers Kelsey and Marissa Weddle. They introduced the musicians, reviewed a few concepts – and raised the roof.

Alternately singing and playing, the students joined the orchestra for snippets of Antonin Dvorak, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein and Duke Ellington.

Later, dancers took the stage, demonstrating the Charleston and other Swing-era moves. By then, even the most apathetic fifth-grade boys in the house couldn’t keep their feet still.

Small wonder that Link Up is sponsored by Spokane Teachers Credit Union.

“This is such a nice tie-in for us to support education and the arts and culture,” said Kristen Piscopo, a community relations officer at STCU. “It’s a great symphony and a beautiful celebration.”

Everyone was on their feet for the final number, Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Miller and the other teachers were clapping their raised hands and the students were jumping almost in unison.

Sadly, that was the signal to march out to the buses that would take them back to school.

Davis will be back.

“This is so cool,” she said.